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Looking at life at 50.

Does your 50th birthday loom just around the corner? Or did you hit the half-century mark a few years ago? Maybe you're a decade shy of the big Five-Oh but can already hear the life's-passed-me-by blues humming in your brain.

If you're thinking "I'm too young to be old," you're not alone. Most people have similar worries: Will I enjoy the rest of my life? Will my body betray me? Will I age with richness or despair?

"People fear aging," says Chicagoan and midlife specialist Paula Hardin, 60, author of What are you doing with the rest of your life?, published by New World Library. "Their bodies are changing, and they're growing older in a time when people don't see any benefit to aging."

To make the most of life's remaining years, Hardin encourages people to chart a course for the rest of their lives. If you're unsure about your life's direction, take heart. Understanding where you've been, learning who you are and deciding where you want to go is a time-consuming process that need not be rushed.

As a catalyst, Hardin suggests exploring these four questions: What do I want to do? What do I want to have? What do I want to be? and What do I want to give? When you know the answers, you'll be able to seek out what will nourish and enrich the second half of your life.

What Do I Want to Do?

Be wild when you write the list of what you want to do. List even the impossible, because you can dream yourself into your future.

Think about the dreams you've already realized. Most 20-year-olds dream of marriage and children, a home, career and maybe a nice car. By the time most of us reach 40, we've realized most, if not all, of those dreams. Your life choices -- whom you dated, what you studied in school, how much money you earned and saved, even what car lots you visited -- led you to your dreams. They still can.

Hardin had a secret dream to see the Himalayas. "I did not tell anyone about my dream. It seemed too exotic, too tender," she says. One day she overheard a couple talking about their Himalayan trek. Unable to keep still, Hardin Jumped into their conversation. Meeting people who had seen Nepal encouraged her to share her secret, first with her husband and then with friends. Some of those friends knew people who had gone to the Himalayas. Information flowed, one connection leading to another.

"Nine months later," she writes in her book, "a motley group of six Americans in their 50s and early 60s arrived at the trailhead in Gorka, Nepal. Some of us were ht. Some were tired. But we were daring, risking -- overweight. Some where tired. But we were daring, risking -- and scared! "

Once they made the commitment to go, Hardin says they were surprised to see how life seemed to support their dream. "We learned the lesson that one choice leads to another and then another."

What Do I Want to Have?

Most people include "my health" on the list of things they'd like to have when they're older. For if aging is a state of mind, it is also a state of body. Physical deterioration is a reality we all face. Those already living with arthritis might feel particularly anxious about their future. Will I be disabled? Will I be able to care for myself? Will I be in pain?

When Mildred Hoge, 75, was in her 50s, she was too busy to think about aging, she says. Finishing her master's degree in library science filled her spare hours, and the teenagers who flowed daily through her school library kept her active. She'd had only occasional arthritis flares.

Then, in 1980, osteoarthritis hit her -- hard. She was 62. "My feet, ankles, knees, even my hands were hurting," she says. "I don't know what brought it on."

But with the help of her physician, she knew what she had to do. Hoge took up walking. "My doctor said, 'If all you can take is 10 steps today, do it. Tomorrow take 11.'"

Hoge remembers how proud she was to report to her doctor that she'd walked a mile. "'Now walk two,' he told me." Today she walks daily on the roads alongside her 100-acre farm just west of Indianapolis. She takes six-to 12-mile hikes with friends and family. "I'll never stop walking," she says.

Hoge's ability to walk away from immobility wouldn't surprise Geri Neuberger, associate professor of nursing at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. For almost 15 years, she has studied the physical effects of exercise and people's attitudes toward exercising.

Many of her studies involve people with arthritis. Neuberger had assumed people with arthritis would have a vested interest in maintaining their exercise routines. She found, however, that these patients neglected their exercises as quickly as other patients. She also had assumed "pain" would be their No. 1 reason for not exercising. It wasn't. "Pain came in third in my survey," she says. "Most people complained about not having enough time or about being too lazy."

Neuberger concedes it's not easy to make lifestyle changes. "People are busy and they think the exercises take too much time." But she cautions that exercise is critical to maintaining health and mobility, especially for those with arthritis.

Paula Hardin encourages people to push their physical boundaries as part of their midlife plan. If "my health" is what people in their 50s say they want to have in their 60s, 70s and 80s, then designing and staying with an exercise program is essential now.

What Do I Want to Be?

We ask kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Rarely do we ask ourselves that question. Once we're grown, we assume we have become all we will be. We don't think of our lives or interests as evolving.

When Walt Cheney was in his 50s, he was an engineer and an inventor. Though he dabbled in writing and even wrote a novel later stashed away, he never seriously thought about being a writer. Today he is a co-author with friends Bill Diehm and Frank Seeley of The Second 50 Years: A Reference Manual for Senior Citizens, published by Paragon House. This 445-page, oversized paperback helps seniors enjoy the second half of their lives more completely and encourages them to "concentrate upon those things that please you. "

Cheney, 66, tackled the book because he felt displeased about the lack of reliable information for older people. "I had a hard time finding answers to my questions. So I thought I could do some good." Four years later, his seven-day-a-week, eight- to 10-hour-a-day schedule produced camera-ready copy for a book he designed and helped write.

"Nobody thought I could do it," Cheney says from his home in Weed, Calif. "I can't spell; I'm terrible with grammar. I'm proof people can succeed in spite of their handicaps."

The project confirmed Cheney's belief that to become what you want to be, you have to tackle projects that are beyond what you think you can do. He urges midlifers to tackle the very things they think they can't do.

"In your second 50 years you don't have as much to lose," he says. "You're on your own time; you have more freedom. You're entering a new era. "

Life has taught Cheney that people need four things to enjoy their later years. "My friends who are happy are the ones who are healthiest. They may not be physically healthy, but they have a healthy attitude." Second and third on his list are a reasonable financial status that allows you independence and living in a supportive environment near people who enjoy the types of activities you do. "Finally, it's important that you have an activity that keeps you alive, enthusiastic and awake."

Cheney is working on volume two of The Second 50 Years and is writing the script for a video to complement the book.

What Do I Want to Give?

Thinking back more than 20 years to when he was 50, Bill Diehm says his "want" list then was pretty self-indulgent. "I fantasized about fame and riches, a harem and an island in the South Seas," he chuckles.

What he has today at age 73 is an electric wheelchair he cannot leave; a paralyzed body, except for two fingers; a wife whom he loves and who loves him; a quiet life near California's Mt. Shasta; and a bookshelf filled with the more than 30 books he has written in about 15 years, including The Second 50 Years, which he wrote with Cheney and Seeley.

When he was 63, Diehm no longer could walk with the braces and crutches that had kept him upright and going since he was struck with polio at age five. Crippled by postpolio syndrome, he's now almost a quadriplegic. "It's as if my fingers are arthritic," he says. "I can't open a bottle, I can't lift an arm. There's just a profound physical weakness."

Faced with the physical reality of his older years, Diehm chose to look for ways he could use what he had to give something back to life. But what could he give? Life's everyday problems gave him the answer.

One day his daughter complained she wasn't meeting anyone she thought she'd like to spend her life with. So Diehm went to his computer and with the two good fingers of his right hand he wrote Finding Your Life Partner. "She read it," he says. "Now she's married and has five children."

Other titles, all inspired by life, followed: Staying In Love, How to Give and Receive Criticism Without Getting Hurt, How to Get Along with Difficult People, How to Cure Bad Habits, and How to Change Yourself if You Want To.

"Some of them sell and some of them don't," Diehm says. "I'm not greatly successful, but I keep myself busy. I'm still useful, still able to give something with these two fingers and a little bit of brains."

Discover What You Love

The poet Rumi wrote: "Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." That line inspires Hardin. "When we've passed 50, we have no time to waste on what we don't enjoy or love," she says. Finding our own answers to the four questions can help us discover just what it is we truly love.

So don't hurry your lists. Live with them. Reread your ideas, add new ones, delete the ones that don't feel right. Engage your heart in redefining your future. Like a moth flying closer and closer to the light, Hardin predicts, you will move closer and closer to seeing what you really must do with the second half of your life.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Arthritis Foundation, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:enjoying life while coping with arthritis
Author:Galas, Judith
Publication:Arthritis Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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